A young man came out of Appalachia with one goal: to become a millionaire. He made a deal with the devil but it was the devil who laughed his way to the bank. In 1929, the stock market crashed and the nation plunged into the great depression. Family and friends found the man on a bridge, staring into the waters far below, and attempted to talk him down. “Leave me alone,” he said. “I’m trying to think. There is something more important than money, but i can’t remember what it is right now.” 1
His wealth rotted away, he was left with nothing but his bottom dollar.
What the man forgot, or perhaps never knew, was the scriptural perspective on money.
“He who loves money shall never have enough. O! The foolishness of thinking that wealth brings happiness” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). That’s the wisdom writer’s version; to put in more plainly: “Any fool knows you don’t need money to get enjoyment out of life.” 2
Money is a major fact in our lives. What are we really after? Peace of mind or to make a buck? We spend more than a third of our life at work but somehow it still doesn’t add up, and we wonder why we do what we do day after day after day. There is so much money in the world and even if we had it all in our pockets we still wouldn’t be happy.
Why is that? Because original sin created a gaping hole in our souls, an emptiness that can only be filled by God.
The futility of money is stated very clearly in places besides Ecclesiastes: income tax figures, and the Bible. The IRS warns they are going to slap a lien on our life if we don’t get solvent. Scripture warns that riches can destroy a spiritually fruitful life and turn our hearts against our creator. We’re better off listening to the Bible than we are to H&R block. The Bible contains more than 2,500 references to money, possessions, finances, and the proper and improper use of wealth. All the words about money in the Bible add up to one common denominator:
Everything we have belongs to God.
That’s the bottom line.
The Epistle of Saint James provides sound financial counsel for the rich and powerful who misuse God’s money. Time to pony up. James excoriates his readers-wealthy, unscrupulous landowners-about using their power to obtain profit from the disenfranchised. “The wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts” (5:4). Note the old testament theology James uses to decry injustices committed against poor farm workers. Like Abel, the blood of the workers cries aloud to the Lord who hears their misery and promises retribution.
Now, God does not condemn money, only the misuse of it or the wrong attitude toward how it should be spent. Many of the godliest people in scripture were very well-to-do: Abraham, job, Barnabas, and King David; all had means and yet they did not let their prosperity interfere with their relationship with the Lord or the work he gave them to help establish God’s kingdom. They are models of good stewardship. David’s son Solomon prayed for wisdom, received great wealth, then used his fortune to construct the temple, the most impressive structure in the world in ancient times, all to glorify God.
Let us think about how we spend God’s money. Why not make him our financial adviser? Who better to help us manage our finances than the Lord? After all, it’s his money. Pray to God for the wisdom to know the difference between what we want and what we need. Let us be content with what we have and allow him provide us with his excellent financial guidance and our own fair share of his bountiful rewards.
If only the man on the bridge hadn’t lost sight that the Lord provides. He could have pulled out his wallet and read what it says on the back of his bottom dollar bill: “In God we trust.”
1. Adapted from Your Money Counts: The Biblical Guide to Earning, Spending, Saving, Investing, Giving, and Getting Out of Debt,” by Howard Dayton. 1996 Crown Financial Ministries Inc.
2. Merton, Thomas. The Seven Storey Mountain. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1948, page 4.